A lack of access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 crisis is a concern for disability workers and individuals with a disability, as the equipment is an essential part of service delivery.
PPE includes equipment like facemasks, gloves, and gowns, and is used to protect healthcare workers and individuals from coming into contact with bodily fluids that may contain infectious germs.
PPE helps limit the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and it is a critical part of infection control procedures in Australia and around the world.
Rosemary Kayess, the Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Senior Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), says that disability workers have not had access to critical PPE from the start of the coronavirus outbreak and that it puts people with a disability and their support workers at risk.
“People with a disability living in their own home, people living in supported accommodation, have to have engagement generally on a day-to-day basis that can be quite close contact...and so access to PPE is critical and that is something people with disability and their support workers haven’t had from the beginning.“
The lack of access to PPE is creating a serious problem around safety for disability workers, says Health Services Union (HSU) National Campaigns & Projects Officer Mark Fathering.
He adds, “The HSU along with two other unions have come out publicly with National Disability Services, which is the employer peak body, on a couple of occasions during this crisis calling for disability services providers and disability workers who are delivering services to have access to PPE.
“People work in this sector because they want to provide services to people. The pressure that it puts on them [is] about [whether] they put their health and safety potentially at risk and do they put the health and safety of the client at risk by not having adequate access to PPE.
“This is a big conundrum because services need to be delivered and if they refuse to deliver those services because of inadequate access to PPE, then the person with a disability doesn’t receive any service.”
In the recently announced COVID-19 response plan for people with a disability, Cabinet Ministers approved access to the national medical stockpile of PPE.
Access to the national medical stockpile is essential to maintaining access to this equipment and HSU welcomes this move says Mr Fathering.
Access to PPE for disability workers and people with a disability has come late into the response to COVID-19. Ms Kayess says that this access to PPE is not just needed now but will also be needed in the future.
“Heightened hygiene practices and PPE are going to be required for a while for lots of people with a disability. So maintaining that equipment will need to be looked at and reviewed to maintain that access.”
Hygiene and infection control practices, along with the use of essential PPE, are an essential part of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Elise Taylor, General Manager, Strategy, Quality and Risk at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), says, “Outbreaks are always a risk, whether that be a high flu season or a COVID-19 type scenario. With this in mind, we have always thought ahead and been mindful that at any time we may need additional stock.”
CPA provides training for individuals and organisations in the disability and community sector and Ms Taylor says the focus right now for organisations is infection control and delivering the right training.
“In light of COVID-19, it’s really important that organisations are responsive and agile and are able to use technology to develop and deliver training via different methods other than in person.
“At CPA, we quickly transitioned to online training for all of our disability support workers and have adapted our in person training to deliver only essential practical skills training to staff in small groups.”
You can visit our dedicated COVID-19 information page for the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the disability sector.
What are you doing to make sure you remain safe during COVID-19? Tell us in the comments below or email us at [email protected].